Nyssa's Hobbit Hole

Category: spiritual abuse (page 1 of 5)

EFCA church we left in 2004 has dipped into extremism

(This is being crossposted with the blog by Wondering Eagle, who writes on issues in Evangelicalism and, particularly, the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA).  My post is a bit longer.)

In the older sections of my website, particularly the theological pages and my conversion story,  you will find many writings about and references to a church my husband and I went to for several years around the turn of the century.  This church was the catalyst for my religious searching and eventual conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy.

My husband and I came from different backgrounds–him Lutheran, me Nazarene–so for years we searched for a church that would make us both feel comfortable.  We went to the local EFCA church starting in 2000.  It met in a middle school auditorium, and had about 200 members.

We were there for quite some time, even getting involved in different ministries.  I began helping in the youth group, and loved it.  I was happy being in this church.  My husband (“Jeff”) made friends with the pastor.

I saw little warning signs of extremism way back when we first started there, such as a group who went to witness to a palm reader at her place of business.  But I hoped it was just a few people like that.  Overall it didn’t seem extremist.

Jeff had some trouble with the tithing talk and Evangelical doctrines, and we were a bit uncomfortable around the hand-waving, but we felt we had found a home.  I got used to the contemporary music, and began to like it.  Before, I often had trouble getting out of bed on Sunday; with the Evangelical Free Church, I was encouraged to get back into the Sunday church habit.  I didn’t want to miss a sermon.

Each year, the pastor and several of the teens and adults went to Russia to evangelize.  They helped with a church plant there, or an Evangelical Free church which had been recently started by missionaries and was headed by Russians; they also helped with a church camp.

I didn’t know in those days that the Russian Orthodox Church feels like its toes are being stepped on by all these Protestant missionaries, that they want to rebuild their own church, which was persecuted by the Soviet authorities for so many decades.

I imagine the church that produced so many martyrs during Communism would be upset to hear what my pastor said in church one day after returning from a Russia Team trip: “I visited the Russian Orthodox Church.  It’s not Christian.  It’s full of idols and paganism.”

He used this as an example of how bleak the spiritual atmosphere supposedly is in Russia after Communism.  This must have been in 2003 or 2004; even then, when I had no thought of becoming Orthodox, I knew what he said was wrong.  I knew very little about Orthodoxy, but I did know that people in this Evangelical church sometimes judged other Christians wrongly.

Lutherans were not considered Christian unless they had a “born-again experience”; Jeff resented that.

We had a boy in our youth group who was brought in by some of the teens and eventually had his own “born-again experience”; then we considered him a Christian.  I knew nothing about his background, just what I had been told about his conversion.  When his parents resisted his going to our church and youth group, I thought maybe they were atheists or Pagans who hated Christians.  To my shock, I heard they were Catholic–in other words, that this kid was already a Christian from a Christian family.

As for Jeff resenting the attitude toward Lutherans: He never had a conversion experience, because he was raised in the faith and always believed it.  How can you “convert” to a religion you’ve always been a part of?

What probably made it worse was that there was a former Lutheran in the congregation who felt he wasn’t a Christian until he converted to Evangelicalism.  Once, this person gave me a book, meant for recent converts, to give to Jeff, because somehow he got the idea that Jeff had just had a “born-again experience.”

Another time, the usual sermons were put on hold while the congregation took a series of lessons on how to convert people.  I believe it was the Contagious Christian series.  Some people left during this time, feeling the church had “lost its focus.”

Jeff didn’t like the constant emphasis on going out and doing things, and people constantly “encouraging” him to join the Russia Team or the Cuba Team.  He didn’t feel led to be a missionary, since he did not know those languages, did not like Russian food, and had trouble dealing with people.  He felt like the church members were seen as tools, rather than people who needed to be healed and built up themselves before trying to evangelize other people.

I was raised hard-core premillennialist.  But sometime in 2001, I used several study Bibles–one of them the Oxford Study Bible–to read Revelations.  To my surprise, premillennialism did not make as much sense as the historical or metaphorical interpretations.  I began to lean toward amillennialism.  But premillennialism was part of the Statement of Faith for the Evangelical Free Church.

Shortly after 9/11, the pastor said that most of the people who died that day had gone to Hell because they weren’t Christians.  This pronouncement horrified me.  Even before this, I began wondering if people went to Hell when they weren’t Christians–not because they rejected God, but because they believed truth and deity to be more present in their own religion than Christianity.

What about a Muslim woman who knew something about Christians, but was taught that Islam was correct and Christianity was for infidels, and went through her whole life–all its joys and sorrows–believing she was doing right?  What about Pagans who were kind and loving?  What about agnostics who just weren’t sure?  What about atheists who didn’t reject God necessarily, but just didn’t believe one existed?

What about the Final Judgment, when Christ divided people based on how loving they were, rather than what religion they followed?  I felt like a heretic for thinking this, even though I later discovered that Orthodoxy read the Final Judgment the same way I did.

To become full members of the EFCA, you had to sign a statement agreeing to all the points in the Statement of Faith.  These were considered the essentials; on everything else, you could disagree.  Jeff and I both, though we disagreed in which points, were not in full agreement with the Statement of Faith, so we never became full members.

In 2002, some big tithers had left the church for various reasons, some disgruntled and some simply moving, leaving the church in financial straits.  Once, there had been a building program, which the pastor disbanded due to disagreements between committee members; now, we started going from one building to another because we couldn’t afford our own.

The pastor began preaching heavily on tithing: It must be 10% gross, given to the church, with charitable donations coming afterwards, no matter what your financial situation, or else you just don’t have enough faith.  But we just couldn’t give any more.  The pastor also said that if you couldn’t afford the tithe, there were people in the church who could come to your house, look over your finances, and help you figure out how to do it.  This sent up alarm bells.  The tithing talk began driving people away.

The pastor went on sabbatical and did a lot of reading and praying.  When he came back, probably early in 2003, everything changed.  The tithing talk still came up often, but now there was a new focus.

The pastor must have been reading a lot of books by John Piper and Rick Warren.  He began preaching “Cat and Dog Theology,” which used the supremacy of God doctrine which Piper, a Calvinist, has been spreading in Evangelical circles.  To us, this was strange doctrine, which we had never heard of before.

Coming from Calvinism, it says that every single thing God does is primarily driven by a passion for his own glory–even the Cross.  We knew this was wrong, that the main reason for the Cross and other things was love, though we had no materials besides the Bible to back us up.  I mentioned the supremacy doctrine to my parents, who agreed that it was wrong.

We didn’t want to de-emphasize glory; we merely felt that this strange new theology was over-emphasizing glory at the expense of God’s love for us and everything else in the faith.  All churches we ever attended said that Christ went to the Cross out of a passion not for himself, but for love for us, our salvation.

Now this love for us, this salvation, seemed more like a side effect which just happened to go along with glorifying God.  We could imagine giving God the glory, but could not imagine God primarily seeking glory for himself, like a warrior-king from Beowulf.

The image of the Loving Father was diminished, replaced by a deity that did not seem to care about fairness, justice or mercy, so long as he was glorified.  Don’t grieve for the death of loved ones, don’t pray for their healing, because you don’t know what purpose God has for their suffering or even death.  Don’t pray for your own needs.

Cats believe we’re saved from Hell; dogs go further, believing we’re saved for the glory of God (which figures greatly into the Calvinist predestination doctrine.)  Some people are born to be killed for the glory of God.

Basically, this deity causes death and suffering so he can be glorified.  The doctrines about glory were pounded into our heads every week for months.

And yet the pastor seemed to wonder why we didn’t consider this a wonderful theology.  We watched in disbelief as other members of the church embraced it and began teaching it to others.  Jeff tried to speak to the pastor about it, but felt bullied into agreeing with the glory theology.

We had gone to classes and I had scoured information on the church’s
theology, and there was nothing in there about Calvinism.  I thought
they were pretty lenient about theology.  We didn’t know Piper was Calvinist, just that this new theology sounded “wrong.”  This got me searching the Internet trying to find out where it came from and how to counter it.

I do recall there was a lot of activity between our church and local Reformed churches, but in those days I did not know that “Reformed” meant “Calvinist,” or that our churches could actually be sharing doctrines.  We did not know we were in a church that was becoming Calvinist, since I always thought that Evangelicals were by definition Arminian, that Calvinism was in the strict old-fashioned churches such as the Puritans and the old Presbyterians.

We did not know much about Calvinism, or that all the weirdness we were hearing came from it; all we knew about was the big Calvinist doctrine most people knew about, predestination.

The pastor did once say that the Holy Spirit works on us to bring us to faith, that we don’t do it ourselves, which was a new doctrine to me, but didn’t set off any alarm bells.

John Piper believes this to be a wonderful doctrine, because God’s grace saved us with no regard to who we are; to those of us who are not Calvinist, however, it has terrible implications for those who do not come to faith because God did not choose them.

The pastor began complaining about churches with too many “programs.”  This meant that, for us, all our programs were disbanded or put on hiatus.  No more Sunday School; no more worship team; no more songs which seemed to be about our reaction to God rather than focusing on God.

We now had one worship leader with a guitar, while a PowerPoint setup showed nature pictures.  Doing worship this way wasn’t “wrong,” but it was yet another way that the church was being entirely changed from what we were used to, and that people were being told to stop doing what made them happy.

In early 2003, the youth group was disbanded for lack of money to pay the youth pastor, and the youth pastor essentially fired.  It was so distressing that at least one of the kids cried.

I had helped in the youth group for nearly 2 years, and it had become my life, possibly a calling.  These were my friends.  My weeks revolved around youth group and going to leader meetings.  The youth pastor was my friend and gifted with his work; I loved the antics of the teenagers, especially two of the older boys who were also youth leaders.

The other youth and adult leaders, Jeff, and I tried to get the group back together, but with little success.  The kids started going to other youth groups, and one even said, “I thought we didn’t have a youth group anymore.”

It was now early 2004.  It took me a long time to get over the loss of the youth group.  I resented the pastor for firing the youth pastor.  Fortunately, the youth pastor found new positions; he believed God wanted him to head a new ministry for young adults, which he did for the next several years, and after that he moved on to other ministries.

A thriving Sunday School was one thing which first attracted me to this church.  Now that we had a child of our own and would need it, there was none, and there were fewer and fewer children, as parents began taking their kids to churches which had Sunday Schools for them.

The pastor also began taking scripture out of context to make points (“proof-texting”), heavily using paraphrases, and using various translations–apparently whichever one fit the point best.

Jeff wrote a letter to the pastor about the supremacy of God doctrine and some other things (the church was still losing members–gone from nearly 200 in 2000 and 2001 to about 40 or 50 in 2003), but felt ostracized after that.  We moved to a different church in June 2004.

To this day, we’re still skittish at the words “glory” and “glorify,” afraid of encountering Calvinism again.  Jeff feels the Evangelical Free church was spiritually abusive, especially since it took him a while to recover from it.  Even when he’s in a church and hears the same songs the E-Free church began singing before it turned Calvinist, he fears that church will start going in the same direction the E-Free church did.

And yet, I’m glad we went through this experience, because without it I never would have had an inkling that American Evangelicalism is suffering from great sicknesses: Not only is there materialism and pop Christianity in the churches these days, but bad theology keeps going hither and thither.

By the way, on May 2, 2007, I discovered on the EFCA website that a new Statement of Faith was in the works.  It went into far more detail than the vague 13 statements we were familiar with.  According to page 13 of the third draft revision (no longer available on the Web), “Throughout this Statement, we affirm that God’s glory is the ultimate aim of all God’s works in creation, revelation, and salvation.”

This Calvinist theology was nowhere to be found in the original Statement of Faith; it was not mentioned in the New Member classes; we never heard it in the sermons until the pastor introduced Cat and Dog Theology.  So, essentially, it seems like bait-and-switch.

Has the denomination changed its views in the past several years for whatever reason–reading John Piper, following Evangelical trends of bringing in Calvinism?  Or has the denomination always believed this way, but kept it under wraps for whatever reason?  Supposedly, you could be Calvinist or Arminian in an Evangelical Free church, but the supremacy of God doctrine tilted it toward Calvinism.

In any case, if the old Statement of Faith had been as clear as the third draft revision of the new Statement of Faith, we never would have stayed in the Evangelical Free Church for so long.  Rather, we were given to understand that outside of the 13 vague statements in our version, there was plenty of freedom.  That would have meant freedom to reject the pastor’s supremacy of God doctrine.

We heard in the summer of 2005 that the E-Free church was dying, with so few members they didn’t know if they could get another pastor when that one left.  Around that time, the ad for the church stopped appearing in the newspaper.  In the 2007-2008 phone book, the church’s listing no longer appeared.  For years I thought it was completely gone, especially when another EFCA church moved into town and began to thrive.  (Why have two of the same church in a town this small?)

But a few years ago, I discovered it still exists, under new leadership now, and finally with a building.

I’m not sure what to make of it, because–according to its website–the new version of the church has some very restrictive rules for members, and has changed the names of some Christian holidays to match Old Testament counterparts.  I have also discovered an Internet review from 2012 which says, “Full of religious fanatics masquerading as christians. Stay far away. And, don’t drink the Kool-Aid!”

On their Facebook page is pictures from 2017 of a protest outside of an inter-denominational celebration of Reformation Day.  It included various churches from the city–such as Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans–in order to bring them together.

The Facebook timeline of one of the people in the pictures includes anti-Catholic rants, particularly when he discovers what the celebration is for.  This guy is one of those megaphone street preachers outside of abortion and in-vitro fertilization clinics, who fills Youtube and Facebook with rants and videos about the people who argue with him on the street, clinics, the Catholic view of salvation, etc. etc.  He’s from Illinois, but he was there, participating with our former church at the protest in Wisconsin, presumably as an invited guest.

A flyer in one picture says “Still Protesting.”  In among actual sins–lying, extortion, greed, etc.–are listed homosexuality and unbelief.  In another picture is a picket sign which reads, “Catholics, thank you for being so pro-life, but why worship with those who cannot have salvation?”

And in the post which includes those pictures, someone asks, what are you protesting?  The response: “The errors of the Catholic Church….It is the 500 [sic] anniversary of the Reformation. October 31st, 1517 Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses. Some today want to say the reformation is over. Unfortunately, the divide actually has become wider.  So we are still protesting. Pro= go forth publically.  Test-ing = To test and give witness.  We declare unashamedly still Salvation is the free gift of God.”

So–They’re protesting another Christian church, one which happens to have similar values, during an inter-faith celebration of unity, simply because they don’t agree with their doctrine or with the other denominations hanging out with them.  And saying that they “cannot have salvation”–i.e., that they’re going to Hell because they don’t agree with Evangelicals on how to be saved.

In a PDF posted on the website, I also find an emphasis on male leadership of the church, not just in pastoral positions, but restricting women from any leadership or teaching of men.  Also, according to this PDF, women are to submit to husbands and be quiet in church, learning from men.

In fact, from another page on the website, a couple must meet all sorts of high standards in order to be married in this church, so high that they would not have married Jeff and me.  One of the stipulations is that a couple “conforms” to the “Biblical teaching on the roles of male and female”!  Another is that “Both the man and the woman must be living out consistent Christian lives of worship, growth, giving and outreach.”  How do they define this?  Is it a set number of church visits in a month?  Tithing 10%?  Going on mission teams?  It all seems very intrusive on the life of a couple, who must be allowed to figure things out for themselves.

Poking around on the website, though the leadership has changed, some names I recognize are still there, and the old pastor is still involved.  So these changes are a continuation of what we saw all those years ago–and now it gives me cultish vibes which I never had there before.

For example, I remember the pastor doing a series on wifely submission around 2001 or so, and women and men not being permitted to counsel each other privately.  But I don’t recall restrictions on women teaching men, or such strict rules on who the church will marry.  So what we saw back then, has been taken to extremes in the years since.

This makes it very clear to me that, despite the guilt and depression I felt when we left this church, we dodged a bullet.  Yeah, the Orthodox church has its own issues.  But just as the EFCA as a whole does not appear to be extremist like the church I describe above, neither is Orthodoxy.  My home church is not extremist, for example.

When we went to the above EFCA church, I felt we could be more moderate, and I knew others who were also moderate–several Democrats, in fact.  (Also, in those days I was much more conservative than I am now, with Protestant views of theology.)  But these new revelations tell me that things have changed significantly in the years since we left.  Maybe all the moderates were winnowed out by the preaching on tithing and glory, leaving extremism behind.

 

 

 

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Careful out there: Another abuse site is no longer safe

…Well, unless you ascribe to their particular form of Christianity, which is rather strict and exclusive.

I won’t name the site/blog here because I’m not interested in blog wars or public shaming.  But I will describe what’s going on so you can keep your eyes open.

For years, I’ve supported and occasionally read another site which ministers to Christian victims of domestic abuse.  For years I’ve been totally on board with the concept that churches often make things worse by telling women to stay with their abusers and “submit.”  That is dangerous and needs to be called out.

For years there have been many good things on the site/blog, and I’ve been on their side when other bloggers/preachers try to tell them that they’re not biblical enough, that they’re wrong, that those wimmenfolk should just shut up and submit to their husbands and preachers.  Or that the site is just spreading gossip or some other charge which is meant to shut up victims and make them feel like sinners.

Well, the blog has taken a disturbing turn of late, after a changing of hands.  I can understand a personal blog or a church-run blog taking a hard line on doctrine; they understandably are from a particular point of view.  But the site I speak of, while run by Reformed believers, is a ministry that was originally to all the churches, not just one kind of church.

But now, not only does the site hold to Reformed (ie, Calvinist) theology, but if you don’t agree with it, you’re treated like a heretic–and your comments are suppressed.

For years, I hadn’t read there very often because I’ve moved on for the most part from my own abusive experiences.  Usually I looked at it when I checked how my Blogroll page was working, and saw an interesting blog post title.  So I knew there had been a changing of hands, but not how it affected the running of the site.

I noted a series of posts criticizing a preacher for how he was trying to reform abusers, but that’s fairly typical for abuse sites.  Abuse sites often complain of anger management or counseling having a naive view of how to handle abusers.

But then the blogger began criticizing his particular salvation theology.  (Sounds like he’s Arminian–which, by the way, is how I was raised.)

Imagine my surprise when the following happened:

A few weeks ago, the site owner/blogger posted on some new doctrine (ESS, or Eternal Subjection of the Son) which has been making the rounds in Fundamentalist circles, which s/he takes issue with because of how it affects marital relationships.  Since I’ve been Orthodox for the past 12 years, I haven’t been following what the Protestants have been up to so much, so wasn’t familiar with this.

The blogger began by stating that classic theology is that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.  As an Orthodox believer, this got a little twitch going:

That is, that little “and the Son” is referred to as the Filioque, which, rather than being classic, was a much later addition to the Nicene Creed–and has been one of the many sources of contention between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism ever since.  You see, it causes a change and imbalance between the members of the Trinity.

Now, I could turn that into a cheeky comment meant to be humorous, and be done with it.  But I suspected that little Filioque was the source of this ESS doctrine, so I went Google-digging.

In a short time, I found a few websites which discussed how this doctrine came from the imbalance caused by the Filioque.  For example,

Roman Catholicism, in its zeal to defend this error has merely transferred an old Arian subordinationist argument concerning the Son, to one about the Spirit!  The irony here is filioquism is ignorantly touted as some response to Arianism, while foolishly making the very same argument the Arians did about the Son and applying it to the Spirit- that He is a product of will.  On top of that, it is touted in their dogmatic manuals, everyday apologists and classic Catechisms.  To admit this to be in error is really the collapse of the entire edifice (which is already happening anyway). –Jay Dyer, Filioquism is Arian Subordination Applied to the Spirit

As you can see reflected above, they also explained that ESS is actually a revival of an old heresy from the early centuries of the Church, called Arianism, long-since condemned after all the trouble it caused.  Heck, even Santa Claus slapped Arius for saying that the Son is not equal to the Father.  The Nicene Creed itself was a response against Arianism.

Since–rather than being a cheeky comment–this actually supported the blogger’s contention that ESS is dangerous heresy, I posted about it.

Also, by posting about doctrine, you could assume that the blogger wouldn’t mind some theological discussion.

I’m used to lively theological debates and discussions online, either watching or participating in them, or–in some cases–starting them.  (No, not as a troll, but to challenge people’s assumptions and get them thinking.)  Usually, forum and blog moderators let them go, only stepping in when somebody gets abusive.  And I am the sort of commenter who never gets moderated because I don’t get abusive.

So imagine my shock when I got an e-mail from the blogger, informing me that s/he would not post my comment.  Why?  Basically, because it spoke of the differences between East and West, i.e. challenged Reformed doctrine.  S/he told me to e-mail the site’s preacher, who knows more about the Filioque.

Oookay….So instead of the lively discussion I hoped for, or little sidenote in a discussion on a blog post, I’m supposed to e-mail a preacher one-on-one about the Filioque?  It sounded like a trap to me, like he’d be teaching me “proper” doctrine, which of course, is Reformed, not that heretical Orthodoxy.

And this is right after I read in this post by Lucky Otter about bewaring of narc-run blogs:

4. The group bans, blocks, or insults people who are self aware borderlines or narcissists — and those who challenge the status quo.

…8. If the owner of the group is religious, they are dogmatic and intolerant of other religious points of view or those who disagree with their religious beliefs.

(Please note: I am NOT implying that the blogger is a narcissist.  Just pointing out that this behavior can be perceived as spiritually abusive–and that it raises up alarm bells.)

I quietly took the blog out of my Blogroll, regretfully, since it appeared that my Orthodox beliefs were not welcome there.  Then I tried to move on and stop thinking about it.

Then I read another blog post, posted last night, on a totally different blog, run by a preacher who also ministers to victims of narcissists and abusers.  I’ll call this OtherBlog.  In the comment section, one person mentioned the Reformed blog.  The OtherBlogger noted that, of late, since the blog changed hands, he could no longer recommend it because of an over-concern for doctrinal purity.  The commenter wrote that she had noted some odd posts in the Facebook group.

So I went over to the Facebook group for the Reformed blog.  Sure enough, over the past couple of weeks, the blogger has been putting up some very troubling posts.  And when people disagree with the blogger’s doctrinal viewpoints, they are argued with, even silenced–while saying that it’s not the same as silencing people.

For example, the most controversial post, calling out Billy Graham as a heretic to watch out for, because he once said that maybe people who never heard of Christ can still be saved.  The blogger complained about all the posts that started coming in, defending Billy Graham or saying that we can’t just say all those people are going to Hell for not believing in something they never heard of.

My gosh, this all smacks of the very kind of Fundamentalism that I’ve been speaking out against on my website for some 14 years, the kind I’ve been actively running from ever since I encountered Reformed theology in an Evangelical Free Church in 2002 or 2003.  This is why, ultimately, I became Orthodox: because it was as far from Reformed theology as you can get.

I see Calvinism as the source of much spiritual abuse and other kinds of abuse as well.  I could’ve been Presbyterian or UCC, except they, too, are connected to Calvinism, despite being very liberal denominations now.

Purity culture, domestic abuse, child abuse–it all goes back to Calvinism and the extremes to which it can go.  Puritans were Calvinists.  Jonathan Edwards was Calvinist; re-reading his sermon years later about sinners in the hands of an angry God, I was horrified by the kind of god he portrayed.

Evangelical churches have been getting infiltrated with Calvinism for years now.  You can read in the comment section of, say, Spiritual Sounding Board about how people have been spiritually abused by this.

My husband felt spiritually abused by the Reformed theology of the E-Free Church we attended for several years.  It didn’t start off Reformed, but began sneaking in Calvinist theology over time.  We finally had to leave because of the damaging doctrines.  Story here.

Even the church I grew up in, which was Fundamentalist and very restrictive in those days, was not Calvinist, and did not say that people who never even heard of Christ are going to Hell.  There was allowance made for what you know.

Even Pat Robertson didn’t say that the unreached were eternally lost.

St. Paul even wrote that people who did not know the Law but lived according to the Law written on their hearts, could be saved.  An article in the Orthodox Study Bible points this out.

So saying they’re all going to Hell–No, that’s not biblical, no matter how it’s wrapped up in flowery words about how such draconian rules are actually Loving and Good.

Such views of such a tyrannical god are–according to Alexandre Kalomiros–what drive people out of Christianity altogether.

So no, I can’t support a site which now insists that part of “helping” people overcome abuse is to insist they follow “proper” doctrine which is not only (according to Orthodoxy) heretical, but spiritually damaging.

Another point: Aside from doctrine, you also have views of what is proper practice, what is sinful and what is not.  Here I deviate from Orthodoxy because I believe that too much reliance on tradition over people, is how you end up with a Pharisaical church.  I will support Orthodox doctrine to the death, because it’s not just the oldest but also the most loving doctrine I’ve ever seen.  But LOVE must be the driver of how you treat people in all things.  In other words, don’t condemn the same-sex couple who wants to get married, don’t condemn the transgendered, don’t enforce the extremes of Purity culture, etc. etc.

From what I’ve seen the Reformed blog become–I would be rejected there because of this, too.  I would be doubly rejected as a heretic now: because I’m Orthodox in doctrine, and because I’m progressive in practice.

I get the impression–since others have already tried–that trying to explain this to the blogger will get nowhere.  But I can warn my readers to take care where they go for spiritual support after abuse.

 

 

 

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On Spiritual Abuse

Is your church infected by spiritual abuse?  The Apologetics Index has all sorts of links about this.

Also see Churches That Abuse and Recovering from Churches that Abuse by Ronald Enroth.  These are full books on PDF.  The guy who runs this website has a signed letter from Ronald Enroth giving him permission to scan these two books, both of which are out of print.

One practice, now widely discredited because it easily becomes spiritually abusive, was often used in the 60s and 70s: shepherding.

It’s giving yourself over to someone else, your “covering,” who makes all your decisions for you–even who to date or marry, how often to have sex, or what music to listen to.

If you disagree with your shepherd or suggest changes to the group rules, you just might find yourself out of the group, since the leadership makes all the decisions.  Congregations may find themselves with no vote or voice.

In groups which decided the “shepherds” must be the opposite sex, shepherding has also led to adultery.

It has also led to broken people.

Unfortunately, shepherding seems to have re-emerged in many churches and Christian groups–ones which seem orthodox on the outside, so you must watch out for it.

I’ve heard of accountability groups, which seem to have come from this practice; take care that it does not match characteristics of shepherding.

I’ve also noted that talks about wifely submission sometimes use the same terms used in shepherding: i.e., the husband is the “covering” for the wife and she “submits to his decisions” no matter what.

Webpages on shepherding, what it is, how it’s abused:

Shepherding Movement

Christian: Who is your covering?  A Christian look at the Shepherding Movement by Steve Coleman

Shepherding Movement–Discipleship Movement–Christian Growth Ministries–Advanced Information

National Shepherding Movement–Discipleship Movement–Promise Keepers Warning

Article by Don Matzat about this and other issues

The Shepherding Movement Comes of Age by Lynn and Sarah Leslie describes the practice of signing covenants, which exists in many groups and churches.  It also implicates the Purpose-Driven Church model.

Willow Creek charges Promise Keepers and Willow Creek Church with shepherding.  The writers are rather fundamentalist and I disagree with them on many points, but they still make interesting charges.  Whether the charges are true or not, you be the judge.

Here and here, you can investigate whether Willow Creek practices shepherding.  And here, you can check out Saddleback’s FAQ.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot on these sites.  I’ve heard of restrictive covenants and the like, but don’t have proof of them.

Nowadays, you can also find blogs about spiritual abuse, on which you can share stories, find comfort and validation, and learn which churches to avoid.  My favorites:

The Wartburg Watch

Spiritual Sounding Board

Healing from Complex Trauma and PTSD/CPTSD (includes posts about a spiritually abusive pastor)

Written between probably 2005 and 2007

Index to my theology/church opinion pages:

Page 1:

Tithing 
End Times and Christian Zionism 
God’s Purpose/Supremacy of God Doctrine 
Cat and Dog Theology 
Raising One’s Hands in Worship 
Christian Music 
On the “still, small voice” and Charismatic sign gifts
On church buildings 
The Message Bible 
The Purpose-Driven Life 
The Relevance Doctrine, i.e. Marketing Churches to Seekers 
Republican Party 
Abortion Protests 
Creation 
The idea that God has someone in mind for you 
Literalism in Biblical interpretation
Miscellaneous 

Page 2:

Name it and Claim It Doctrine, Prosperity Doctrine, Faith-Formula Theology, Word-Faith Theology,  Positive Confession Theology, Health and Wealth Gospel, and whatever else they call it
More about Pat Robertson
Dr. Richard Eby and others who claim to have been to Heaven
Women in Marriage/the Church
Spiritual Abuse 
Other Resources 

Page 3:

Why do bad things happen?
Should we criticize our brethren’s artistic or evangelistic attempts?  Or, how should we evangelize, then?
Angels: Is “This Present Darkness” by Frank Peretti a divine revelation or fiction?
Halloween: Not the Devil’s Holiday!
Hell and the Nature of God 
Is Christmas/Easter a Pagan Holiday? 
Is everybody going to Hell except Christians?
How could a loving God who prohibits murder, command the genocide of the Canaanite peoples? 
What about predestination?
Musings on Sin, Salvation and Discipleship 
An Ancient View which is in the Bible, yet new to the west–Uncreated Energies of God

Page 4:

Dialogues
The Didache 
Technical Virginity–i.e., how far should a Christian single go? 
Are Spiritual Marriages “real”?  (also in “Life” section, where it’s more likely to be updated) 
Does the Pill cause abortions, or is that just another weird Internet or extremist right-wing rumor?
What about Missional Churches, Simple Churches, Fluid Churches, Organic Churches, House Churches or Neighborhood Churches?
Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?
What is Worship? 
Evangelistic Trips to Already Christianized Countries
Fraternities, Sororities, Masonic Lodge 
Was Cassie Bernall a Martyr?
Some Awesome Things heard in the Lamentations Service (Good Friday evening) during Holy Week

Conversion Story

Phariseeism in the Church

 

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Different kinds of abuse–same feelings: How Mark Driscoll reminds me of Tracy, Phil, and others

One reason why I read blogs and articles of all different kinds of abuse, is that I find the reactions of the abuse victims are the same everywhere.

Of course you’ll have differences here and there: Being molested by a parent is not the same as being psychologically manipulated by an ex-boyfriend, for example.

But everywhere you find the same common themes: loss of trust, hurt, pain, confusion, longing for the abuser to acknowledge the abuse and make up for it.

The other day, I read this account of narcissistic abuse and a smear campaign at Mars Hill Church:

My Story by Jonna Petry

Her husband was a pastor with the church for a time, until he was abandoned and smeared by Mark Driscoll.

In this and in other stories I’ve read about abuse at Mars Hill Church, I was struck all along by things that sounded very familiar, in my own experiences with narcissistic abuse, from exes (especially Phil) and from Richard and Tracy:

  • A person/place who at first seemed like God’s gift to you.
  • Pressure to conform.
  • Shunning someone you are told is bad.
  • Abuse and getting kicked out for questioning, disagreeing, speaking up about problems.
  • A person who throws tantrums and verbally abuses you for the slightest offenses, even when the offense is only in his own mind.
  • A smear campaign.
  • Others encouraged to shun you.
  • A kangaroo court in which you have no real chance to defend yourself.
  • Others put through the same abuse if they stick up for you.
  • A “conference” which is meant not to hear your side or your grievances, but to coerce you into agreeing that the abuse against you is justified.
  • A refusal of the abusers to admit they’ve done anything wrong.  As Driscoll and his henchman wrote to Jonna and her husband, “We still believe we have done nothing wrong.”
  • Begging others to help, but no one will.
  • Discovering this abuse is a pattern, that it neither began nor ended with you.

The hurt, pain and confusion as you long desperately for reconciliation:

In shock and heartbroken, Paul and I tried desperately that first half-year to bring about some level of reconciliation.

We so longed to be restored to our friends, to have our name and reputation exonerated, and to have peace in our relationships.

This had become our family that we loved and served and ministered to as our own dear children and as brothers and sisters. These were our dear friends.

How could they do this to us? Words do not adequately describe the shock, horror, betrayal, and rejection we felt. The weight of the loss was excruciating.

The PTSD and shaking of faith:

During this whole season since the firing and the months that followed, I was emotionally and spiritually devastated.

I was often tormented by fear. I had nightmares and imaginations of someone trying to physically harm Paul, me, and the children.

If Mark had had ecclesiastical power to burn Paul at the stake I believe he would have.

I literally slept in the fetal position for months. I stayed in bed a lot, bringing the children in bed with me to do their schoolwork.

I became severely depressed and could hardly bring myself to leave the house except when absolutely necessary. I cried nearly every day for well over a year thinking I must soon cry it out, right?

But, the sorrow was bottomless. My faith was gravely shaken. How could a loving God allow this?

Later it became clear that I had typical symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression and that these reactions were common in someone who has experienced spiritual abuse.

Spiritual abuse occurs when someone uses their power within a framework of spiritual belief or practice to satisfy their own needs at the expense of others. It is a breach of sacred trust.

Christians are commanded by Jesus to love one another. When that is projected, articulated, enjoyed and then treacherously betrayed, the wounded person is left with “a sense of having been raped, emotionally and spiritually” not by a stranger, but by someone who was deeply trusted. (See Recovering from Church Abuse by Len Hjalmarson)

At the beginning, Jonna wrote,

This past summer I saw the movie, “The Help,” and a seed of courage was planted in my soul. One of the last lines of the movie:

“God says we need to love our enemies. It hard to do.  But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it feel like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free.”

This story is an earnest attempt to speak the truth in love that freedom and new life may flourish.

At the end, she wrote things which encourage me to continue telling the story of Richard/Tracy–and express the same hope I hold, that one day my abusers will recognize their abuse and change:

In Acts, Chapter 20, the Apostle Paul pleaded with the Ephesian elders to pay attention and guard the flock.

This admonition, along with the mounting stories of abuse and misconduct coming out of Mars Hill Church, has added to our conviction.

We believe that to remain quiet now would be unloving and disobedient to God. As my husband stated earlier–if we fail to remember our history, we leave it for others to re-write. And, unfortunately, some of that has occurred.

And, in Mark’s own words from his book, Vintage Jesus:

“People are not perfect. As sinners we need to be gracious, patient, and merciful with one another just as God is with us or the church will spend all of its time doing nothing but having church discipline trials.

“It is worth stressing, however, that we cannot simply overlook an offense if doing so is motivated by our cowardice, fear of conflict, and/or lack of concern for someone and their sanctification.

“In the end, it is the glory of God, the reputation of Jesus, the well-being of the church, and the holiness of the individual that must outweigh any personal desires for a life of ease that avoids dealing with sin biblically.

“Sometimes God in his providential love for us allows us to be involved in dealing with another’s sin as part of our sanctification and growth. It is good for us and for the sinner, the church, and the reputation of the gospel if we respond willingly to the task God has set before us.”

What happened to us was very wrong. The way it was publicly described by Mark and the elders at the time was completely exaggerated and deceptive. The way the media and blogs have since reported on it has many holes and errors. Now it is open and plain to everyone.

If Mark and the organizations he leads do not change, I fear many more will be hurt, Mark and his family included.  To not speak is to not love or care and shows no thought or consideration for those who have been wounded and those who will be in the future.

We are witnesses. There is a pattern. There is a history. There is an ethos of authoritarianism and abuse.

Mark is the unquestioned head of Mars Hill Church and the Acts 29 Network. His elders have no way to hold him accountable. Those under him likely fear him and want to garner his favor so they don’t dare say nor do anything that might anger him. This is tragic.

Perhaps at some point, with enough outcry and exposure, Mark will come to his senses, own his harmful behavior, and get the help he needs to change. I hope so. Our common Enemy can make terrible use of our weaknesses and blind spots.

Our Lord’s harshest words were for leaders who used their status, power, the Scriptures, and God’s people for their own self-aggrandizement. Surely this is not what Mark meant to do.

We are all in this together, no matter what kind of abuse we suffered, or from whom.

We did not deserve it, and need to learn and remember this.  We need to put the responsibility for the abuse, and our subsequent hurt and pain, where it belongs–on the abuser–and take none for ourselves.

And we need to NOT look at each other and think, “I got it worse than you, so why should I bother with your story and pain?”

We also need to learn from each other, take courage from each other to speak up and tell our stories, and heal each other.

 

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Attack of Phil’s Flying Monkey and Sycophant: Dirk (Part 1)–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–The Long, Dark Painful Tunnel, Part 9

I had been trying the past couple of days to get to Career Services, but they were closed each time I could make it.  The problem was finding a time when they were open that fit with my schedule.

I was thinking of finding a job in S– so I could stay around there, which I used to think I would do anyway, unless Phil and I went to live with my parents after the wedding.

Anyway, since this was right after the split and it still seemed possible that he would cool off and call off the divorce, it made sense to make sure I could stay in the area until then.

And it was also to stay near my friends.  I didn’t have many left in South Bend that I was still in touch with, but I had a bunch around S–.  I mention this for a reason that will soon become clear.

Wednesday evening I went to the library to take care of some class business, and Dirk was there, working.  He said he had a few things to discuss with me, if I wanted to talk to him.  I agreed.

He asked another student worker to cover for him while he took me into the adjoining room, the one with reference books and oversized books.  We sat on one of the couches by the oversized books, and talked.  This spot seemed too public, so I hoped our voices were low enough to not be overheard.

We talked about all sorts of things.  I could tell that Phil fed him all sorts of untrue things about me.  He gave me advice I did not need; told me to do things I was already doing, chewed me out for things I supposedly did or didn’t do.

He knew everything about relationships, me, and Phil.  He knew the real reason for the secret marriage (which he didn’t tell me).  He knew Phil was upset about particular things, and why, though I did not.  He knew how I could get Phil back.

He would tell Phil if I responded appropriately to this lecture.  Red flag warning!

He knew how a girl should act to get men (apparently, my dressing in attractive but modest clothes wasn’t enough to “dress to impress,” even though a Christian woman should not be “showing her wares,” so to speak).  He knew that I–Well, let’s just quote him:

“You’re the only girl I’ve ever thought I needed to tell this to,” he said, “but here goes: You’ll probably end up an old maid.”  (Yeah, tell that to my husband and child.)

He knew everything about the Bible and what it really said about sex; if he were wrong, he’d be struck down for the things he’d done.

He knew that I should convert to Catholicism if I wanted to marry Phil–even though I would have ended up one of those reluctant, “bad” Catholics who don’t really believe it.

He apparently didn’t know that there are ways for Catholics to marry non-Catholics so that even the Catholic church recognizes it, even without a Catholic ceremony or Mass.

Such weddings can be blessed by a priest, even if not officiated by one.  It sounds like Phil did not even bother looking into these alternatives, which is a shame, because they could have settled everything to the satisfaction of him and me.

Note how Dirk tried to shame me into abandoning my own beliefs and switching to Catholicism.  Red flag warning!

Unfortunately, Dirk was just like Shawn, and could talk you into believing anything he said.  Then later on, after talking to friends or contemplating, you’d realize, “He doesn’t know anything about me/the situation/reality!”

For one thing, it’s impossible to be an old maid when you’ve already been married.  For another, without adopting any of his suggestions of how to get men, but by being myself, I got three more boyfriends that year, and married one of them.

He told me that Phil thought my friends wouldn’t let him sit down when we were watching My So-Called Life, just because they gave him the only seat left, a cushioned milk crate we often sat on.

But that wasn’t all.  The time he came over after playing D&D with Dirk and his new girlfriend, and we were playing Spoons, Phil said he didn’t feel welcome, and no one let him sit down.  Both times, I didn’t defend him.

Well, I said, I didn’t know I needed to–I saw no such thing!   (Shows how much Phil communicated with me!)  So now Dirk thought I was horrible, over something that didn’t even actually happen, that wasn’t even true.  

And if Phil was so offended by something I had no clue about, why didn’t he speak up about it to my friends, instead of putting it all on my shoulders?  Am I his attack dog now, too?

Dirk chewed me out for telling Phil about my crush on Mike.  Apparently, Phil didn’t tell Dirk his rule that we confide in each other about attractions to others, or that Phil found it totally appropriate to tell me every girl he lusted after.

Apparently, what was good for the gander was verboten for the goose.  How dare I be attracted to a sweet, non-abusive guy after a summer of abuse, and how dare I mention it after my husband’s been repeatedly telling me I’m not enough for him.

Dirk also seemed to think I didn’t know what love is or what it means, and said I needed to learn that.  He asked, did I ever do anything romantic, like a candlelight dinner?–

While I thought, wait a minute, why in the heck is he telling me these things????  Why should he ask such a thing?

I stay faithful despite everything, and Phil leaves me without trying to work things out, yet Dirk says I don’t know the meaning of love?  If that were the case, then why did I stick by men until they left me, instead of leaving them first?

And who ever said I was not romantic?  I loved romance, and I liked special moments to be special however they could be.

I didn’t do candlelight dinners because I didn’t cook and I didn’t have any candles, and it wasn’t like we ever had the chance to anyway.  There was no place in the dorms, where they were verboten, and we lived with our parents.

That didn’t mean I didn’t make up for it in other ways.  Candlelight dinners are not the only romantic thing you can do.

I am a romantic soul, the one who writes about passionate love between aliens and time-travelers and such, and between humans and vampires.  I fell in love so easily with the people I dated, and longed for romance.  I didn’t/don’t know where Dirk even got the idea that I might be lacking in love or romance.

Phil abuses me in various ways all summer, fights everything I need or want, cuts me down constantly, even sexually assaults me because he refuses to respect my wishes that sex not involve excruciating pain, but I don’t know anything about what love is or what it means?

I don’t know what Phil had been telling him, but obviously it was a whole pack of lies.  Phil had his brain so screwed over that Dirk thought he knew everything about me and what happened, but he knew absolutely nothing.

I could tell Phil didn’t listen to me, but Dirk listened to him.  Dirk was a pawn in Phil’s Control by Proxy.  Nowadays, he’d be called a Flying Monkey or a sycophant.  I never had a thing to do with him after September.

For example, when Phil broke up with me, he kept saying, “You say you want to be a housewife,” as if that were a fault, as if I refused to ever work outside the home.

I’d tell him that’s not what I said, but he kept harping on it.  Over the summer, I told him again and again that I wanted to be a housewife so I could have time for my writing, because I saw writing as my life, not any other career.

But I said again and again that after we got publicly married and moved out on our own, I’d do my share to bring in money until he got his acting break–even work in a factory if I had to.

But my wish was to one day retire from this and write full-time–once we could afford it.  I also felt it was best to stay at home with our future children.

I never said I’d refuse to work no matter what.  I just said I preferred a traditional role so I would have time to work on my writing career.

Now, Dirk started harping on my wanting to be a housewife.  Phil must have ignored everything I ever said on the subject, and told Dirk I was not willing to contribute financially.  Here’s the gist of what Dirk said:

“You should have plans for something to do with your life.  You’re smart.  You can do something, make something of yourself.  Look at Margaret Thatcher–she’s a prime minister!  Just because you’re a woman don’t think you can’t do anything important.  Find a career goal.”

What I wish I would’ve said to Dirk: “I do have a career goal: I want to publish novels, as I told Phil many times.  It takes brains to do that, and it’s important. 

“And what the heck ever gave you the idea that I thought women could do nothing important?  Do you think I could be born in the 1970s and grow up in the 1980s thinking that women were fit only to look pretty in the drawing room?

And what’s so unimportant about raising children and running a household?  Just tell a stay-at-home mother of three kids that she’s lazy, she’s not contributing and her work is meaningless–and see what happens.

“Once upon a time, women were expected to be housewives; now that the pendulum has swung the other way, women are often expected to go out and get a job along with taking care of the house, and derided if they want a traditional role.”

I have to wonder if Dirk knew that Phil treated me like a disobedient servant, not a wife, a throwback to the days when men thought women couldn’t handle intellectual pursuits.

Just so you know I meant what I told Phil:

After college, I got a full-time job in insurance.  I worked for a couple of years, became a homemaker for a year after being downsized, then worked again part-time for four years to pay off some debts.  Then I became a stay-at-home mother.

All along, I have written; my books are now published here and making a little bit of money.  I am also getting some success as a blogger.

Just what I said I would do, and all perfectly acceptable.  Despite how he and Dirk both scorned it, I’m living the dream, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

This article by Frederica Mathewes-Green, an Orthodox woman who used to be a feminist Episcopalian, describes how feminism–while certainly making good changes, such as the vote for women and more natural standards of beauty–also made some very bad changes.  One was the idea that women should find careers more important than staying at home, that “staying home and raising kids was mindless drudgery,” that “housewives were dumb.”

There’s nothing wrong with mothers working.  But the choice of a housewife should be respected, not derided.  Housewives with children are very busy, and have to use their brains all day long; calling them lazy is ludicrous, as is saying that a housewife is wasting her brain.  These jobs would have to be done by somebody, even if the wife didn’t do them.

And I certainly don’t waste my brain when I do finances, make out a menu, or act as the tech support for my household, since I understand computers much better than my engineer husband does.

But back to September 1994.  Though ticked and confused, instead of what I should have said, I said, “Tomorrow I’ll go to Career Services.”  (You’ll note I’d been trying to go there already anyway.)  He said that was good, and he would tell Phil that.

I should have told him off.  Of course, I don’t remember what else I said.  I might have set him straight, or tried to.

Right after I said I’d go to Career Services, I said that the next day I would also talk to Pearl about what he said about InterVarsity.  He was pleased with that as well, and said he’d tell Phil about that.

So you see, he got me under a bit of a spell, controlling my mind, getting me to think he was right even when his words made no sense and had no connection to reality.

Part 2

Index 
Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

 October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound

January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD

 February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995:

 

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